Edible City is where I muse about urban gardening and share tips from my new book City Farmer

Sunday, July 18, 2010

R.I.P. Chicken Roo

One of my chickens, Roo, died on Saturday. She was a Buff Orpington, just over 2 years old, and a great gal. Her illness and death brought to mind all the practical dilemmas and philosophical contradictions, for me, of keeping egg-laying hens in the city. For example, when it became clear that she was sick, I didn't know where to turn. Should I find a Toronto vet (none of whom specialize in farm animals) willing to see Roo and possibly do surgery (I thought she had an impacted crop, but now I'm not so sure)? If my cat was sick, I'd take him to the vet without any hesitation. But Roo wasn't exactly a pet, though I did have strong and affectionate feelings for her. Instead, I went to the farmers market and talked with a number of farmers--all of whom said, "If it's an impacted crop, kill her and make soup." Gotta love those very practical farmers!

By the time I got home, Roo was dead. TC (my friend who runs torontochickens.com--this is a psuedonym; she prefers to remain anonymous because chickens are still illegal in Toronto) and I buried her in my backyard and I plan to plant some currants near her--she'll feed the berries over time. First, though, TC and I did an autopsy, which sounds grizzly but wasn't. We wanted to determine whether or not Roo did in fact have an impacted crop, but the results were inconclusive. I have to say that dissecting the neck of a dead chicken--a chicken I've spent a lot of time with--was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I learned something about Roo's anatomy and I learned something about myself: I've got a bit of the practical farmer gene in me, after all. Next time, I'll probably cut her neck pre-death (yes, cause her death) and make soup.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tasty Native Wild Ginger

I'm drawn to unusual edible wild plants and foraging. But I'm also keenly aware that our few remaining natural areas just can't sustain much wild harvesting. One great way to deal with this conundrum is to grow native plants in our own gardens and harvest them from this sustainable source.

So this weekend, for the first time, I harvested and ate some of the wild ginger I've been growing for years. Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a woodland perennial groundcover native to the forests of northeastern North America. It spreads quickly, creating a dense, gorgeous mat of heart-shaped leaves, perfect for shade gardens. The root is an excellent substitute for ginger--the flavour isn't as strongly ginger-ish as the Asian ginger from the supermarket, but it is, I'd say, more complex and interesting. It's peppery and almost perfumey.

I dug up a couple of roots, cleaned them, and chopped them up into very fine slices (using only the white part of the root--as the root gets greener and turns into stem, it becomes bitter). I then took some boneless chicken breasts, sliced them in half and stuffed the wild ginger in between the slabs. I cooked the chicken in the oven (wrapped in paperbark--something I'll save for another blog posting later) and served it with a simple mayo/lemon accompaniment.

Another thing I did was to steam fresh peas with a bit of wild ginger root.

I'll be doing a workshop on growing edible native plants where I talk about these and other unusual culinary garden ornamental natives. It's on July 17, 10am to noon, at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto (http://ebw.evergreen.ca/cal/event/edible-native-landscapes).